Fraud case hears Saatchi aide gave the go-ahead for credit increase

Fraud case hears Saatchi aide gave the go-ahead for credit increase

The accountant in charge of Charles Saatchi’s finances has told a court he increased his personal assistant’s credit limit to £100,000 without telling the art dealer the amount.

Italian sisters Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo are accused of using credit cards loaned to them by Mr Saatchi and his ex-wife Nigella Lawson to spend more than £685,000 on themselves.

Prosecutors claim the pair lived the “high life” and went on a spending spree, buying designer clothes and handbags from Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Vivienne Westwood.

Jurors at Isleworth Crown Court in west London previously heard that Francesca, 35, spent the most money on her card, which was registered to Conarco Partnership – one of Mr Saatchi’s companies.

She is alleged to have used it to buy items for herself worth in excess of £580,000 and in June last year alone ran up a £64,000 bill on luxury holidays and designer goods, it is claimed.

Mr Saatchi’s finance director, Rahul Gajjar, 44, said yesterday that he only began to suspect the sisters early last year.

Today, during cross-examination by Karina Arden, representing Francesca, Mr Gajjar said it was he who authorised the defendant’s credit limit, which started off at £25,000.

Mr Gajjar said he increased it to £50,000 in February 2010 and then £100,000 in June 2011 as the defendant kept going over the limit and her card was frozen.

Ms Arden asked: “So the level of spending, which may be suggested by the Crown to be extraordinary – certainly you and Charles knew about it?”

“Yes,” Mr Gajjar replied.

Ms Arden went on: “He knew that a credit limit of £50,000 was insufficient at one point and therefore asked for it to be increased?”

“The details of the figure I don’t think Charles was aware of,” Mr Gajjar said.

Asked why Francesca and Elisabetta, 41, were expected to buy so much for the household, Mr Gajjar said: “Charles and Nigella didn’t generally go shopping like most people do. They would have their personal assistants shop for them.”

Ms Arden said Francesca worked long hours for the celebrity couple, often from 5am or 6am until late at night, and travelled around the world with them and their children.

Asked if Francesca “lived and breathed” Mr Saatchi and Miss Lawson, Mr Gajjar agreed.

The Grillos, both of Kensington Gardens Square, Bayswater, London, deny the charge against them.

It is alleged that, between January 1 2008 and December 31 2012, they committed fraud by abusing their positions as PAs by using a company credit card for personal gain.

Mr Saatchi, who went through a high-profile divorce from cookery writer Miss Lawson earlier this year, is expected to give evidence later today.

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